Tag Archives: rescue

Rescue services

With the VHF on Channel 16, I can hear the Coast Guard but not (usually) the boats talking to them. As a result, I get one side of the conversation and have to piece the story together from that.

One day, the Coast Guard acknowledged a message from a private boat which had reported a cruiser aground at a named part of Lough Ree. The Coast Guard didn’t have a map of the lake and didn’t know where that was [why not?] but it seemed that the private boat was able to explain matters. It was also able to say, in response to questions, that three people were visible on board and that one was wearing a lifejacket or buoyancy aid.

The Coast Guard, after a while, reported that it had asked the Lough Ree RNLI lifeboat to go to the rescue, gave an estimate of when it would get there and asked the private boat to remain on station. The private boat evidently agreed to do so.

Some time later the Coast Guard reported that the lifeboat was on its way.

And some time later again the Coast Guard called the lifeboat and told them they were being stood down and could return to base, as the hire firm was arranging for a boat to be sent to the rescue. The private boat was told that it could leave the scene.

If I were the skipper of the private boat, I would be very pissed off and, next time I saw a boat aground, I’d be inclined to ignore it. That would not be good.

The problem here is that there are two competing rescue services. The official service [PDF] is the one that was called into operation by the private boat, which did the right thing in reporting the grounding. And the system worked perfectly after that.

It should be noted that a private boat cannot know what, if anything, is happening through the unofficial rescue service operated by hire companies on the Shannon: “unofficial” in that its boats are not Declared SRUs (Search and Rescue units), the hire firms (and IBRA) are not listed as Irish Search and Rescue Organisations and their operations are not coordinated by the Coast Guard.

According to the Carrick Craft Captain’s Handbook [PDF/Flipbook]

You will be given breakdown and emergency telephone numbers when you check in.

It also says

Running aground

In all cases immediately contact your hire boat base for advice using the number provided. In the interests of safety do not accept an offer of help from a passing boat. If needed, assistance will be quickly available either from your hire boat company or one of the associate hire boat companies who may be located closer to you. Your hire boat company will alert the necessary authorities to deal with any incident that may arise.

The bit about not accepting help from passing boats is OK, I suppose, until the water reaches your ankles.

But I suspect that the advice to hirers is based on experience: groundings are probably the most common form of accident, it is unlikely that the boat will sink, it is likewise unlikely that anyone will have been injured and it is probable that a dory or other workboat will be able to make any necessary checks and repairs, haul the boat off and admonish the crew.

However, there may be an element of self-interest in this too: if the hire firms look after these incidents themselves, they won’t find them covered in press releases from voluntary rescue bodies, with videos shot by boat-mounted cameras. I have heard it said that some folk — including private boaters — feel that rescuers’ press releases give the wrong impression of the inland waterways, suggesting that they are more dangerous than they really are, especially given that few rescues involve any threat to life. [That’s something I’ve heard, not my own view.]

It is entirely possible that I misunderstood, and have thus misrepresented, what was happening. But if I haven’t, it seems to me that there is a problem in the relationship between the official and unofficial rescus systems for hire boats. If hire company staff, who are paid for the job, can rescue afflicted boats, without having to impose on the volunteer rescue services, then that’s a good thing. But it would not be good to have private boaters ignore all hire boats in trouble because, some day, the trouble might be serious.

I do not know whether the hire firms and the Coast Guard have discussed these matters and reached some understanding or produced some protocol about when the firms will call in the official services. If they haven’t, it might be nice if they did.

And, in individual instances, the firms might tell the Coast Guard, and ask them to broadcast the fact, that there is a boat aground and that they’re on their way, perhaps asking private boats to keep an eye out just in case. Everyone with VHF will hear the news, but that’s still more private than having press releases and videos on websites.



Victoria Lock, Meelick

Victoria Lock, Meelick

I like spending the night above the lock at Meelick: a pleasant, sheltered and quiet place. But there is a mystery about it.

Last time we were there, several groups of young folks came down to the lock after the keeper had knocked off for the night and gone home. It had been a warm day and I imagine that they were there to swim below the lock. Afterwards, some of them stayed around, chatting and hitting balls with their hurling mallets. They were quiet and caused no annoyance to anyone (although they might have removed their rubbish, in accordance with Waterways Ireland’s Leave no Trace policy).

But I did wonder what would have happened if there had been any horseplay, or even a mild slip, and someone had fallen into the lock chamber.

Both sets of gates were closed for the night, so the victim (even if conscious and uninjured) would have been unable to swim out and no rescue boat could get in.

There are no ladders in the lock chamber, so the victim could not have climbed out and any rescuer could only dive in, which would mean two people in the chamber rather than one. Nor was there anything in the chamber on which the victim might rest.

There was no information (that I could see) at the lock to tell the victim’s friends what to do, how to summon help or to get the gate opened. Any boater present might use VHF to call the Coast Guard and request a helicopter, but non-boaters might not think of that (or even of asking for the Coast Guard on ringing 999 or 112).

So that’s the mystery: if someone falls into a closed lock after operating hours, how is that person to be rescued? And how are others present to know what they should do? It would be nice if Waterways Ireland were to make information available on the spot.



Mathew Bridge

In the news again.

Meath River Rescue

I have no idea what this Dáil written question and answer, from 12 November 2013, are about:

Peadar Tóibín [SF, Meath West]: To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government if his Department will provide direction for a safety procedure (details supplied) to be enforced; if this procedure been enforced in any other region or with any other community organisation; if he will reverse this decision and allow for Meath River Rescue to operate in a fully integrated and efficient manner.

Phil Hogan [FG, Carlow-Kilkenny; Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government]: My colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is the Minister with responsibility for receiving calls for assistance for inland waterways and mobilisation of appropriate response services. I have no function in the matter referred to in this question.

Googling suggests that Meath River Rescue got €278,358 for a boathouse and training room in Navan, with two FG TDs announcing the grant a year apart [or is one of those dates a typo?]. The service is known to Irish Water Safety but is not one of its Community Rescue Boats Ireland so it’s not a Coast Guard declared resource [which doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it]. Meath River Rescue’s own website and facebook page don’t seem to have been updated since April 2012 [although I am unfamiliar with facebook and may not be interpreting the dates correctly] but the service has been in action as recently as September 2013.

Unfortunately “details supplied” means supplied to the minister, not to readers of Dáil proceedings, so I have no idea what problem was being raised.




Boat fire …

on the Ouse.

Inland lifeboats to be exempt from VAT

Irish Water Safety has issued a press release [PDF] saying that the government is to introduce (or launch or make or pass or something) the Value-added tax (refund of tax) (rescue boats and related equipment) order 2013 which will allow inland community rescue boats to reclaim VAT on their purchases. Under the Value-Added Tax (Refund of Tax) (No 18) Order 1985, coastal community rescue boats have been able to reclaim VAT [PDF] but inland boats have not.

Portumna Water Rescue Service

Portumna Water Rescue Service

Irish Water Safety has a defined role in assessing the eligibility of community rescue boats for VAT exemptions; indeed its checklist and guidelines for community rescue services [PDF] are rather surprisingly headed Inspection for VAT Refund Certificate. The background is explained in another document Inshore Rescue Guidelines [PDF], which will presumably now be amended to include provision for inland boats. The “Declared Facility” boats [those approved and able to claim the VAT exemption] are listed here; there is also a list of other known rescue boats, some of which, being on inland waters, will now presumably apply to IWS for approval. Thus what is already a large rescue service will become even larger and more important.

I have photos of some of these boats on this page. I have none of the Corrib & Mask Rescue service, which I regret as today’s announcement was made on their turf and with their assistance. IWS says:

They will be the first Community Rescue Boat Ireland Lifeboat to be in a position to avail of this financial incentive.

Incidentally, I do not know whether the existing inland lifeboats operated by the Coast Guard and RNLI are affected by this or whether they could already reclaim VAT. If anyone can tell me, I’ll be glad to add the information here.

Lough Derg search: addenda

Some additional information from the Clare Champion and the Limerick Post. The Irish Mirror has one of the few accounts that includes discussions with participants.

More to come.

Searching Lough Derg

Last Friday evening, 21 June 2013, was not a good time to be out on Lough Derg. We were heading north, with the waves behind us, and had little difficulty until entering port, but we could hear on the VHF what must have been one of the biggest search and rescue operations on the Shannon in recent years.

We had switched on at what seemed like a fairly early point in the proceedings, and kept listening until the Coast Guard were assured that everybody was accounted for. We weren’t able to attend to the whole thing, as manoeuvres during and after berthing occupied our attention for some time, but we got a pretty clear picture. The Irish Times report (which will probably disappear behind a paywall at some stage) is here; I think it has some minor details wrong but the gist of it is correct; its later report is here. The Clare Herald has a very detailed account here, the Clare Champion account is here and the Limerick Post adds some information here.

The event was said by the Irish Times to be “hosted for FISA in Ireland by St Michael’s Rowing Club of Limerick” but I can’t see anything about it on either organisation’s website. I presume that the boats were something like this one.

Quad at Clonlara in 2011

It’s a quad, with each rower using two oars; it carries a cox and it’s used for touring rowing, so it’s not as slim as a standard racing shell.

By the way, just to be clear, none of the photos on this page were taken during last Friday’s operation.

RNLI Lough Derg lifeboat

From what we could hear, the operation involved volunteers from Killaloe Coast Guard, the RNLI at Dromineer, the Community Rescue Boats from Mountshannon and Limerick and at least one yacht, which (I think) took one of the rowing boats in tow; that yacht’s participation and careful provision of information to the Coast Guard was admirable.

Killaloe Coast Guard RIB

Killaloe Coast Guard RIB

We heard discussion of proposals to ask the Civil Defence to participate as well, and the Clare Herald confirms they did turn out. It seems that the University of Limerick Activity Centre boat was out too, as was Peter Hooker of RNLI in his own boat.

Limerick Marine SAR Land Rover

Limerick Marine SAR Land Rover

That’s just the volunteers, and if I’ve left anybody out I’m sorry; let me know and I’ll amend this.

Then there were the professionals: the Coast Guard staff on VHF, the Gardaí on shore, the helicopter crew. And, again, the Clare Herald makes it clear that lots of other people were involved too: fire brigade and ambulance units, paramedics and a hospital consultant.

All in all, this was a major operation and a lot of people put in a lot of effort that night, in bloody awful weather.


I formed the impression that communication amongst the members of the rowing fleet, and between them and the rescue services, was poor. It was difficult to establish what rowers were where and how many were unaccounted for. The Clare Herald story seems to support that conclusion: it says that Gardaí had to travel to the rowers’ hotel to make sure that everybody had turned up and that the search was not formally stood down until 11.30pm.

I don’t know what communications equipment and what sort of organisation and safety procedures the rowing group had, so I’m not going to comment on them. Instead, I want to go off at a tangent. It struck me that life would have been easier for everybody if each boat had had a handheld VHF and someone able to operate it. Such sets can be bought for as little as £50 in the UK or €75 in Ireland.

So the technology is now very cheap and, for short range work as on Lough Derg, a handheld VHF should be adequate. But if you want to be legally entitled to use a VHF set, matters are much more complicated. I’ll discuss that in another post.

Kilkenny Civil Defence

Kilkenny Civil Defence training session on the Shannon

Kilkenny Civil Defence training session on the Shannon

Rescue boats on Irish inland waterways

I’ve moved my photos of rescue boats to a new page and added photos of some more services. Still a lot missing, though.